If you are looking for an introduction to 2,000 years of Christian history or to learn more about some particular strand of the church, then you should find this series well worth the time and money expended. The story is divided into six themes: The Eastern Church, Orthodoxy, Catholicism, The Protestant Reformation, The Evangelical Revival and The Age of Scepticism. This division allows Maculloch to offer a clear, informative narrative shot through with a lightness of touch which makes for very watchable television. The programmes are filmed on all 5 continents from South Korea to North America to Russia and Central Asia affording many memorable shots to illustrate the points being made. Clearly with only 6 hours at his disposal, Macculloch has to leave a lot out with little said about monasticism, The Spanish Inquisition, relations with Islam or the work of Charles Darwin and its impact on the Church. Furthermore, I found his style a little soft on some of the darker aspects of Christian History-it is only with the footage from Auschwitz that Maculloch starts to take a more critical view of the Church's moral credibility. The end of the series is also rather flat when having told such an absorbing story, the Professor concludes that we 'must wait and see where Christianity goes next' which is hardly a very illuminating conclusion. Nonetheless, I want to give this series a strong recommendation to believers and non-believers alike-it is intelligent, well made and highly enjoyable history which will stimulate discussion and further reading.
You don't need to be a Christian or even religious to find this BBC series absolutely fascinating and extremely informative. Over six episodes it explains how what started as a small Jewish sect that preached humility became the biggest religion in the world. So much of our modern world, its societies, conflicts and customs are intertwined with the development of Christianity that I found each programme to be extremely interesting and of direct relevance to modern life, regardless of any individual's religious opinions.
The series is hosted by Diarmaid MacCulloch who is one of the world's leading historians, Professor of History of the Church and Fellow at St Cross College Oxford. Yet he doesn't hog the limelight or make the programme about himself; MacCulloch is undoubtedly expressing his interpretation of the historical facts and the current situation but he argues his points as an expert and not as a fanatic or a celebrity presenter. MacCulloch is obviously passionate and well informed about the subject matter but as he travels across the world to illustrate his arguments you don't feel bullied or hectored by his lectures. Instead he is quietly compelling, the kind of guy you'd like to chat to over dinner.
The series is massive in scope, and starts with Christianity's forgotten origins, then its expansion in the East, detailing the Eastern Orthodox church which has over 150 million members worldwide. Episodes touch upon the importance of icons, the great Byzantine expansion, what happened to Christianity in Russia under Ivan the Terrible and then the Soviet state, and so on. Christianity in Britain comes under the spotlight too, along with the Amish and Protestant offshoots from Catholicism; how the Reformation affected the development of British society, and how Evangelical Protestantism has evolved and changed all around the world.
So much of the background to our society is interlinked with the history of Christianity that this series provides many moment of little revelations, where the background to a current situation suddenly becomes clear. It was startling to be reminded how many pillars of British culture, politics and society have their roots in the Christian faith, too.
Prof MacCulloch draws on the expertise of other speakers to illustrate certain points; he involves experts, preachers, vicars and church-goers to demonstrate his arguments. At the end of the series I was left with the impression that it felt like a collection of very well presented essays: I'm not convinced that it is THE definitive history of Christianity. But it is a very accessible and very carefully produced one; well balanced and delicately nuanced.
Intelligent viewing, then, offering plenty of perceptive observation.
on 18 April 2014
This really acts as an introduction or companion piece to the excellent book of the same name. It vividly illustrates some of the main themes of the book, giving some extra detail. However, as a standalone history it lacks depth and excludes much, being far too short. Like many others, I found the final episode to be very biased and judgemental in comparison to the rest of the series. I would certainly recommend watching this series as it is interesting and informative and gives a better flavour of (for example) the Eastern Church and Saint Basil's Cathedral than a book ever could. However, I also hope that it leads people on to read the book.
Diarmaid MacCulloch's does not hide his Anglican background, as the only child of a country parson. He is now a deacon and regularly attends a High-Church service; although he comes across as more atheistic back when this documentary was made. His fondness for the recent Archbishops of Canterbury Rowan Williams and Justin Welby is matched by an equal dislike of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. On the other hand, he denies being anti-Catholic and seems to see much to admire in the more ancient Catholic traditions as well as in Vatican II. He also acknowledges the desirability of dismantling the pervasive Protestant myth of reformation.
on 17 March 2010
Living abroad I had to wait for the DVD to come out earlier this year and I was not disappointed.
The six-part series covers six phases of the Christian church in broadly chronological order: the early Church in the Middle East, the Catholic church with its centre in Rome, Byzantine Orthodoxy, the Reformations of the 16th Century, the Evangelical revival and Christianity's encounter with questioning since the Enlightenment.
On the whole a great series. The story-telling style combined with footage of key places in Christian history makes it compelling watching. MacCulloch gives a comprehensive overview of all aspects of the Christian story. I appreciated the focus on the East (the early church, Byzantium and Nestorianism) and also on the evangelical churches (eg Herrnhut).
In terms of constructive criticism, I would make three points.
Firstly, the series feels the need to follow the marketing of imperative of "What you never knew about the Christian church." The series makes some really interesting connections, but there are no major revelations (with the possible exception of his hypothesis that various post-Crusade churches are modelled on the Dome of the Rock).
A second criticism is the non-scholarly use of the term 'West' - why not say, "Western Europe and North America", "the affluent English-speaking world" or something similar. In the same vein, the term East can mean various different things (Orthodoxy, Nestorianism, China, India) and more precise terms would be better.
Thirdly, the conclusion of the series (the end of part six), which while focusing on a major issue (the church's interaction with issues of human sexuality) doesn't really capture the challenge for the world church in the light of all that has gone before. At this juncture the testimonial-confessional angle (expressed earlier in terms of MacCulloch's father and trips to old churches) takes centre stage rather too much. The more accusational tone of the sixth episode (also in relation to the Holocaust) introduces an element of alienation from the church somewhat out of sync with what had gone before.
on 4 March 2010
The first five parts are enthralling; they give a fascinating insight in to the history and spread of the, to us in the West, lesser known, ancient forms of Christianity which pre-date ours and still endure to this day, before going on to the history of the Church in the West. The Professor has drawn the different strands of Christianity together, to show how they have both interacted and also developed separately. The early spread of the "Religion of Light" to China, and its subsequent survival "underground" was astonishing, and the tale of how the Eastern Orthodox Church survived the fall of Byzantium and is now thriving was intriguing.
I was not so happy about part six. Personally, I would not call the Nazis Christian. They may have introduced a perverted form of religion designed to replace Christianity and to fool less discerning Christians in to following it, but to call it Christianity is like comparing the antichrist to Christ. It is the other side of the mirror, and perhaps the sort of thing that we are warned against in the book of Revelation. Professor MacCulloch should think of such German Christians as the pastor Dietrich Boenhoeffer, who opposed the Nazis, tried to overthrow Hitler, and was hanged for it (with wire). When talking about the concentration camps, the Professor should mention such people as Maximillian Kolbe, the Polish Catholic priest who volunteered to die in place of a Jewish man in Auschwitz in 1941. I haven't even mentioned all the Christians from all over the world who fought and died to defeat Hitler.
Despite what I have said about part 6, I think that the rest of the series is excellent, and I recommend the DVD on the strength of the first five parts.
The series recounts the history of the Christian Church. It is not about theology, and it does not try to convert anybody. Indeed, Professor MacCulloch says that he is not a Christian.
on 7 April 2010
BBC(like Independent TV) has lots of splendid, spectcular documentaries. Years ago Bamber Gascoigne did a great docu on Christianity - why buy this new series,parts of which I had already seen live ?
First, those first glimpses fascinated me as they are full of places and events almost unknown to me, though I have quite good knowledge of the subject generally - and the whole atmosphere also has the allure of the mysterious and strange, while D.M.is clearly an expert who does not talk down to his audience. Beware !if you are caught up by the events as I was, you will need, and want, to watch scenes or whole episodes again,and perhaps again !! And I enjoy that, whereas the book would put undue demands on eyesight, concentration,temper...and shelf space; in a bitter contest against easier reading.
It depends on your interest in the history of human culture...but not on any particular allegiance. Good Luck, ENJOY the series.
on 10 April 2011
I am at Theology College studying for a BTh, and in my second year. I bought this DVD to get an introduction to Reformation Church History, and then I studied the period in preparation for writing an essay. I found the DVD to be easy to watch, informative, and my subsequent study has demonstrated that it was balanced and accurate.
I highly recommend this to anybody who wants to understand how Christianity became what it is today from an historical perspective.
on 24 June 2014
Enjoyable series, although it suffers a bit from having too few episodes (as other BBC documentaries do, eg: David Starkey's "Monarchy"). It has a very slight bias toward Protestantism, and I think it probably would have been a bit more cohesive if it'd surrendered to this impulse, and been instead "A History of Protestant Christianity", with the first three episodes as they are, and the last three devoted to modern Protestantism.
on 27 January 2010
The TV series is being shown now on BBC2 but i saw it a couple of months back on BBC4. This is an excellent series: well put together, informative and extremely watchable. Sometimes these documentaries seem quite a chore to get through but i thoroughly enjoyed this one. Highly recommended!
on 3 November 2013
Got this as read the book on holiday. Or most of it! It is a much simplified version. Stunning visuals, really makes you want to visit the places. Sad to see Syria as it was before the war. However does not have the depth of the book,